James Baldwin Table

James Baldwin Table


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 James Baldwin Table



Books by and about James Baldwin

 Go Tell It on the Mountain  /   The Fire Next Time  /  Notes of a Native Son  /    If Beale Street Could Talk

Carol E. Henderson, James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain: Historical And Critical Essays. Peter Lang Publishing, 2006.

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James Arthur Baldwin–born in Harlem, New York, August 2, 1924–was probably the most popular Negro writer from the mid-50s through the mid-60s. For the civil rights movement, he provided a vital literary voice. The eldest of nine children, his stepfather was a minister. At age fourteen, Baldwin became a preacher at the Fireside Pentecostal in Harlem, motivated probably in ecclesiastical ambitions from a need to gain respect from his stepfather. After he graduated from high school, he moved to Greenwich Village. In the early 1940s, he transferred his faith from religion to literature. more bio  

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People said Baldwin was ugly; he himself said so. But he was not ugly to me. There are faces that we cannot see simply as faces because they are so familiar, so iconic, and his face was one of them. And as I sat there, in a growing haze of awe and alcohol, studying his lined visage, I realized that neither the Baldwin I was meeting — mischievous, alert, funny — nor the Baldwin I might come to know could ever mean as much to me as James Baldwin, my own personal oracle, the gimlet-eyed figure who stared at me out of a fuzzy dust jacket photograph when I was 14. For that was when I first met Baldwin, and discovered that black people, too, wrote books.

The Fire Last Time

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This is a novel about Harlem’s store-front churches, seen through the eyes of the people who go to one of them. These people have blood and flesh in their church, and in their past in the South, and it would seem that, therefore, their story would be of wonder, strength, tragedy, and sometimes beauty. The story is of all these things, partly. But it is not what the author hopes it will be, when he says of his intentions: “it is a fairly deliberate attempt to break out of what I always think of as the ‘cage’ of Negro writing. I wanted my people to be people first, Negroes almost incidentally.” Go Tell It on the Mountain

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Few American writers handle words more effectively in the essay form than James Baldwin. To my way of thinking, he is much better at provoking thought in the essay than he is in arousing emotion in fiction. I much prefer “Notes of a Native Son” to his novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, where the surface excellence and poetry of his writing did not seem to me to suit the earthiness of his subject matter. In his essays, words and material suit each other. The thought becomes poetry, and the poetry illuminates the thought. Notes of a Native Son



Fire Last Time   

Go Tell It on the Mountain 

Hughes Reviews Notes of a Native Son  

If Beale Street Could Talk   

James Baldwin’s Jeremiad 

James Baldwin: The Preacher Poet

MAWA Baldwin

Rainer Reviews Notes of a Native Son 

Sermon and Blues    

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Related files

Dreaming Underground

Eldridge Cleaver The Fire Now

Langston Hughes

      Langston Hughes Bio  New Negro Poets U.S.A.   In Praise of Langston Hughes 

      Sermon and Blues    Notes of a Native Son  (Langston Reviews Baldwin) Socialist Joy 

      Langston Hughes to Christian   New Negro Poets U.S.A.  Langston Hughes Life and Works

James Baldwin Interview (Florida Forum, Miami, 1963)


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Selected Works

Go Tell It on the Mountain, 1953

Notes of a Native Son, 1955

Giovanni’s Room, 1956

Nobody Know My Name (, 1962

Another Country, 1962

The Fire Next Time, 1963

Blues for Mister Charlie (a play, produced in 1964)

Going to Meet the Man, 1965

Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, 1968

A Rap on Race, with Margaret Mead, 1971

If Beale Street Could Talk 1974

The Devil Finds Work, 1976

Just Above My Head, 1979

The Evidence of Things Not Seen, 1985

The Price of the Ticket: Collected Non-Fiction, 1948-1985, 1985

Perspectives: Angles on African Art, 1987

Conversations with James Baldwin, 1989

Early Novels and Stories, 1998

Collected Essays, 1998 (ed. by Toni Morrison)


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1963_Debate Malcolm X_With_James_Baldwin.mp3 / James Baldwin on Malcolm X (1 of 3)

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James Baldwin on Malcolm X (2 of 3)  / James Baldwin on Malcolm X (3 of 3)

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Comments on James Baldwin’s The Cross of Redemption

Guest Blogger Professor Jerry W. Ward

Baldwin, James. The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings. Ed. Randall Kenan. New York: Pantheon Books, 2010


 “Is A Raisin in the Sun a Lemon in the Dark?” is one of the more revealing essays in this collection. Disputing Nelson Algren’s criticism of Hansberry’s play as a drama about real estate and his valuation of Wright’s Native Son, Baldwin contended “both Native Son and A Raisin in the Sun are flawed pieces of work,” because he found “a profound connection between the two works, and even certain rather obvious similarities. Wright’s flaw is . . . involved with [an] attempt to illuminate ruthlessly as unprecedented a creation as Bigger by means of the stock characters of Jan, the murdered girl’s lover, and Max, the white lawyer”(25).  Bigger’s tortured reality precludes belief in the two.  Likewise, belief is not warranted by Hansberry’s “juxtaposition of the essentially stock . . . figure of the mother with the intense (and unprecedented) figure of Walter Lee.  Most Americans do not know that he exists” (26).

Despite his awareness in 1961 that drastic measures were needed to educate most Americans about systemic racism, Baldwin yearned for dramatic verisimilitude divorced from social data, for a certain kind of art.  One profits from reconsidering Baldwin’s problematic judgment by way of reading Robin Bernstein’s “Inventing a Fishbowl: White Supremacy and the Critical Reception of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun in Modern Drama (Spring 1999).

Baldwin’s venial flaw was insufficient consideration of the agon of the particular and the universal in American letters.  His flaw leads to a cardinal, contemporary question: should most Americans even care that the characters Walter Lee Younger and Bigger Thomas have become living human beings? An answer might illuminate something.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr., Professor of English at Dillard University, is the author of The Katrina Papers: A Journal of Trauma and Recovery (UNO Press, 2008). A Richard Wright scholar, poet, literary critic, Ward was born in Washington, DC but has spend most of his adult life in Mississippi and Louisiana. He is co-editor with Maryemma Graham of The Cambridge History of African American Literature and HBW Senior Board Member. 

Source: ProjectHBW

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The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings

By James Baldwin

Baldwin’s published essays have been already twice collected (The Price of the Ticket and the posthumous Library of America Collected Essays), but there are gems in this collection compiled by Kenan (Let the Dead Bury the Dead): “The Fight: Patterson vs. Liston” is as impeccably crafted as a short story; “Blacks and Jews” captures the speaking Baldwin and echoes the call-and-response tradition. The 54 pieces, none previously appearing in book form, range from Baldwin’s first published book review in 1947 to a 1984 colloquy with college students. Baldwin’s topic can often be subsumed under race, but he most consistently wrestles with questions of moral integrity—in the language (“The Uses of the Blues”), in the artist’s work (“Why I Stopped Hating Shakespeare”), in the assessment of history (“On Being White . . . and Other Lies”), and in one’s personal life (“To Crush a Serpent”). Kenan’s introduction and headnotes are models of critical good sense; his awareness of both “Baldwin’s achievements that beggar the imagination,” and of the “grab bag” quality of some pieces makes him the perfect shepherd for these “lost” works.

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James Baldwin’s Turkish Decade: Erotics of Exile

By Magdalena J. Zaborowska

Between 1961 and 1971 James Baldwin spent extended periods of time in Turkey, where he worked on some of his most important books. In this first in-depth exploration of Baldwin’s “Turkish decade,” Magdalena J. Zaborowska reveals the significant role that Turkish locales, cultures, and friends played in Baldwin’s life and thought. Turkey was a nurturing space for the author, who by 1961 had spent nearly ten years in France and Western Europe and failed to reestablish permanent residency in the United States. Zaborowska demonstrates how Baldwin’s Turkish sojourns enabled him to re-imagine himself as a black queer writer and to revise his views of American identity and U.S. race relations as the 1960s drew to a close. Following Baldwin’s footsteps through Istanbul, Ankara, and Bodrum, Zaborowska presents many never published photographs, new information from Turkish archives, and original interviews with Turkish artists and intellectuals who knew Baldwin and collaborated with him on a play that he directed in 1969.

She analyzes the effect of his experiences on his novel Another Country (1962) and on two volumes of his essays, The Fire Next Time (1963) and No Name in the Street (1972), and she explains how Baldwin’s time in Turkey informed his ambivalent relationship to New York, his responses to the American South, and his decision to settle in southern France. James Baldwin’s Turkish Decade expands the knowledge of Baldwin’s role as a transnational African American intellectual, casts new light on his later works, and suggests ways of reassessing his earlier writing in relation to ideas of exile and migration

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Take this Hammer—a James Baldwin documentary

KQED’s film unit follows poet and activist James Baldwin in the spring of 1963, as he’s driven around San Francisco to meet with members of the local African-American community. He is escorted by Youth For Service’s Executive Director Orville Luster and intent on discovering: “The real situation of negroes in the city, as opposed to the image San Francisco would like to present.” He declares: “There is no moral distance . . . between the facts of life in San Francisco and the facts of life in Birmingham. Someone’s got to tell it like it is. And that’s where it’s at.” Includes frank exchanges with local people on the street, meetings with community leaders and extended point-of-view sequences shot from a moving vehicle, featuring the Bayview and Western Addition neighborhoods.

Baldwin reflects on the racial inequality that African-Americans are forced to confront and at one point tries to lift the morale of a young man by expressing his conviction that “There will be a negro president of this country but it will not be the country that we are sitting in now.”

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As the title suggests (Beale Street in Memphis  was a home of blues composition), the novel is written as a blues lament, a structure that explains the two unbalanced sections: the long lyric-evocation celebration of suffering in the first part (“Troubled About My Soul”) and the brief second section (“Zion’) that does not conclude but plaintively fades away.

This lack of plot resolution that frustrates the reader mirrors the frustration of the black families in their efforts to free Fonny. The love story stresses not the romantic aspect of love but its fidelity, tenacity and cohesive power – the qualities of love that battle frustration. Frustrating it is indeed that the young black man is accused of rape, yet the black community suffers constant violations of its rights and identity. Fonny himself is  eventually beaten up in prison because he will not submit to homosexual rape, and then is placed in solitary confinement. Against these invasions of person and community the strength of love offers the only defense. If Beale Street Could Talk

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It is one thing to prick the conscience of white America, to arouse a sense of guilt for the wrongs that have been done. But guilt feeling by itself is not enough; if it becomes too overwhelming, the human psyche has defense mechanisms that allow the guilt energy to be dissipated outside of any constructive channels. How many thoughtful white Americans, thinking of South Africa, feel in their hearts that the situation in that cursed land is so hopeless that they might as well forget even trying to think of any solution? And how many white Americans get a similar bleak feeling when they consider not only Mississippi but Harlem, Roxbury, New Haven, Gary and a hundred other places where racial relationships have been tied into knots which defy unraveling? The feeling is intensified in practically every case of school integration; for how many parents are willing to jeopardize their children’s education for the principle of equality – or for any principle, no matter how laudable it may be? James Baldwins Jeremiad

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Baldwin was born on Aug. 2, 1924, a day after Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association hosted a massive march past Harlem Hospital where he was born to open the fourth annual International Convention of Negro Peoples of the World. Growing up in abject poverty, Baldwin found his voice through writing at an early age. The poet Countee Cullen was one of his mentors in high school. His break though 1953 autobiographical novel,  Go Tell It on the Mountain, was a coming-of-age saga of a black teen in the African American church. After a brief stint working menial jobs in New Jersey as a young man, Baldwin hitched his wagon and took off for Paris, where he came into contact with the likes of writers Richard Wright and Ernest Hemingway. His Paris experience provided partial inspiration for future novels like 1956’s Giovanni’s Room and 1962’s Another Country, which dealt candidly with racial and sexual identities at a time when such topics were still taboo. Motivated by the growing racial tension back in the United States, Baldwin came home in the early 1960s and threw himself into the fire of the burgeoning civil rights movement. He gave speeches and wrote prolifically for major publications of record about the growing tides of change in America. His groundbreaking 1963 book, The Fire Next Time , and Blues for Mr. Charlie, a play loosely based on the 1955 murder of Emmitt Till, are considered two of the era’s most influential works about race relations. Over the years, Baldwin’s politics grew more militant. He became more supportive of black nationalists like Angela Davis and Stokley Carmichael. Following the assassination of Congo Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba in January 1961, black radicals stormed U.N. headquarters demanding answers to his murder. In a New York Times article written after the incident, Baldwin said the “riot” at the United Nations was “but a small echo of the black discontent now abroad” and “if we are not able, and quickly, to face and begin to eliminate the sources of discontent in our own country, we will never be able to do it in the world at large.” Bay State Banner

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He [James Baldwin] was born in Harlem in 1924. He grew up in poverty in New York City. In 1948, he moved to Paris to become a full-time writer. His first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, was an autobiographical work about growing up in Harlem. It’s considered a classic American work. Throughout the rest of the ’50s, Baldwin moved from Paris to New York City to Istanbul. His novels Another Country and Giovanni’s Room explored themes of homosexuality and interracial relationships. As an openly gay man, James Baldwin also became increasingly outspoken in condemning discrimination against gay people.

Baldwin returned to the United States in the early ’60s. His book The Fire Next Time dealt with issues of black identity and the state of racial struggle. Baldwin became a fiery spokesperson for the Civil Rights Movement. Here, he speaks at Oakland, California’s Castlemont High School. It was June 1963:

I think the other reason, and perhaps the most important reason, that I am throwing these suggestions out to you tonight is that in this country, every black man born in this country, until this present moment, is born into a country which assures him, in as many ways as it can find, that he is not worth the dirt he walks on. Every Negro boy and every Negro girl born in this country until this present moment undergoes the agony of trying to find in the body politic, in the body social, outside himself/herself, some image of himself or herself which is not demeaning. Now, many, indeed, have survived, and at an incalculable cost, and many more have perished and are perishing every day. If you tell a child and do your best to prove to the child that he is not worth life, it is entirely possible that sooner or later the child begins to believe it.DemocracyNow

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On Blues for Mr. Charlie

The play was to honor what unfortunately was Emmett Till’s murder in the South, and it was a play, the first of its kind, to really examine the challenges of racism in America, of growing up black in America, and of growing up all over the country in different ways, as well. And in his efforts to try to express what occurred then and the impact it has on the white population, as much as anyone else, the play was very profound in its delivery.

And it was hard for audiences to take, because they—some would leave. But one thing about that play, in particular, was that it was—it was a blues. You know, it was the beat of Jimmy’s understanding of his people, of the cadence, the commitments to trying to tell the story in a way that people could hear it. And the performances were so profound and dramatic and real that a lot of people couldn’t take the reality and did walk out.

The play was then taken to London, and it ran there briefly. And, unfortunately, it didn’t run as long as it should have. But it was a very significant historical moment in the history of American theatre, American literature, and interrelationships with people.CaroleWeinstein

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Four Girls Bombed in Birmingham

James Baldwin made speech in New York, September 25, 1963, just ten days after the Birmingham church bombing that killed four little girls. This is some of what James Baldwin had to say.

We are not—are we?—at the mercy of our political institutions. If we created them, we are responsible for them. We have the right and the duty to overhaul them, to change them. We are not—are we?—so helpless, to say that the [inaudible] has to stay there forever. Who said so? I dare them to go in any Birmingham barbershop and talk to anybody. I dare them.

And I think that commission, the appointment of that commission, the very notion, and the apathy with which the country has greeted it, proves my point. We have no right to allow the death of six children. And our common disaster and our common crisis and our moral crisis to be met in this way, it proves, if anything does, that the terms in negotiation must now be radically changed. One cannot negotiate with the representatives of one’s oppressors.

It is time to let the nation know that the death of my child—I, as a black man—and the spiritual death of your child—you, as a white man—cannot be met by sending down a commission to find out what happened. We know what happened. What we have to do is prevent it from happening again. And in order to do that, one doesn’t beg the Birmingham city fathers for a truce; you use whatever weight you have to force them to recognize your presence in that city, in that state, and in this country, as a man, no matter what it costs who.DemocracyNow

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No Country, No Flag

A boy last week—he was sixteen—told me on television—thank God we got him to talk, maybe somebody was taught to listen—he said, “I’ve got no country, I’ve got no flag.” And he’s only sixteen years old. And I couldn’t say, “You do.” I don’t have any evidence to prove that he does.

And the moment you were born, since you don’t know any better, every stick and stone and every face is white, and since you have not yet seen a mirror, you suppose that you are, too. It comes as a great shock, around the age of five or six or seven, to discover the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you. It comes as a great shock to discover that Gary Cooper killing off the Indians, when you were rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians were you. It comes as a great shock to discover the country, which is your birthplace and to which you owe your life and your identity, has not in its whole system of reality involved any place for you. DemocracyNow

James Baldwin  in Cambridge debating William Buckley: documentary The Price of the Ticket, written and directed by Karen Thorsen.

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James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket (1989)

Directed by Karen Thorsen

Contributors James Baldwin and Maya Angelou

James Baldwin never needed anyone to speak for him, and in this eloquent, wrenchingly emotional documentary, the legendary American writer and civil rights activist tells his own story. Born in Harlem in the 1920s, he became a vital literary voice during the 1950s and 1960s, influencing North Americans of all colors with his impassioned writings about the racial and sexual tensions underlying social change. Using rare archival footage of intimate interviews with Baldwin and his friends and colleagues, including Maya Angelou, William Styron and Ishmael Reed, memorable scenes of his homes in North America and Paris, clips from his many public appearances, and his extraordinary funeral, The Price of the Ticket is both a personal portrait and a social critique of what it is to be born black, impoverished, gay, and immensely talented at a time when human equality is an unfamiliar, and unwelcome notion. Excessive, exuberant, conflicted, and unforgettable, James Baldwin was unwavering in his conviction that “all men are brothers. The Price of the Ticket is a vibrant affirmation of his vision.

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Whiteness & Blackness

I want to end with a clip of James Baldwin talking about race relations in this country and concepts of whiteness and blackness. He is talking in September of ’63.

The American revolution, the terms are these: not that I drive you out or that you drive me out, but that we come together and embrace and learn to live together. That is the only way that we can have achieved the American revolution.

Now, if we can face this, it involves facing a great many things. It demands that white people face the fact that I, for example, or any black person they will ever meet or have ever met—I am not an exotic rarity. I am not a stranger. I am none of those things. On the contrary, for all you know, for all you know, I might be your uncle, your brother, your cousin, among other things. One of the things that has happened here—and the pathology of the Deep South proves it; so does the pathology of the North, which dictates to them that they move out and I move in—among other things which have to be excavated here is the fact that this long history is also the history of a love affair.DemocracyNow

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James Baldwin—interview 1 / James Baldwin–Interview 2 / James Baldwin—Price of the Ticket  / James Baldwin Speech 1979

The State of African Education  / Attack On Africans Writing Their Own History Part 1 of 7 / John Henrik Clarke—A Great and Mighty Walk

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The Shadows of Youth

The Remarkable Journey of the Civil Rights Generation

By Andrew B. Lewis

With deep admiration and rigorous scholarship, historian Lewis (Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table) revisits the ragtag band of young men and women who formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Impatient with what they considered the overly cautious and accommodating pace of the NAACP and Martin Luther King Jr., the black college students and their white allies, inspired by Gandhi’s principles of nonviolence and moral integrity, risked their lives to challenge a deeply entrenched system. Fanning out over the Jim Crow South, SNCC organized sit-ins, voter registration drives, Freedom Schools and protest marches. Despite early successes, the movement disintegrated in the late 1960s, succeeded by the militant Black Power movement. The highly readable history follows the later careers of the principal leaders. Some, like Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown, became bitter and disillusioned. Others, including Marion Barry, Julian Bond and John Lewis, tempered their idealism and moved from protest to politics, assuming positions of leadership within the very institutions they had challenged. According to the author, No organization contributed more to the civil rights movement than SNCC, and with his eloquent book, he offers a deserved tribute.—Publishers Weekly

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Michelle Alexander: US Prisons, The New Jim Crow  / Judge Mathis Weighs in on the execution of Troy Davis

The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness 

By Michelle Alexander

The mass incarceration of people of color through the War on Drugs is a big part of the reason that a black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The absence of black fathers from families across America is not simply a function of laziness, immaturity, or too much time watching Sports Center. Hundreds of thousands of black men have disappeared into prisons and jails, locked away for drug crimes that are largely ignored when committed by whites. Most people seem to imagine that the drug war—which has swept millions of poor people of color behind bars—has been aimed at rooting out drug kingpins or violent drug offenders. Nothing could be further from the truth. This war has been focused overwhelmingly on low-level drug offenses, like marijuana possession—the very crimes that happen with equal frequency in middle class white communities.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 1 April 2012





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